Mayo Clinic Glass Shop Celebrates 100 Years

In the 100 years that Mayo Clinic has had its own glass shop in Rochester, Steve Anderson is just the third person to hold the title of scientific glassblower.

Run into him at a party and it might be difficult to get Steve Anderson to open up about what he does for work. "It brings up a lot of questions," he tells us. "I just tell them I'm a scientific glassblower. My wife didn't believe me when I first told her that after we met."

Steve is one of only three people to hold such a position at Mayo Clinic in the 100 years that Mayo's had its own glass shop in Rochester. He got into the biz after reading an article "on strange, little known occupations," including scientific glassblowing. "That sparked my interest," he says. He reached out for information from Salem Community College in Carney’s Point, New Jersey — the "only school in the country that offers a formal scientific glassblowing program." And the rest, as they say, is scientific glassblowing history. "Fifteen years later I came back to Rochester and took over for glassblower Gordon Smith when he decided to retire," Steve tells us.

In the 20 years that he's been head of the one-man glass shop in the basement of the Medical Sciences Building, Steve says there's never been a "typical" day at the office. "I work mainly with research groups, and you just never know what they're going to come through the door with," he says. "Generally speaking, I turn ideas for experiments into glassware. Lately, I've been making aortic training aids. The models replicate aneurysmal disease, providing the opportunity for fellows and residents to practice advanced endovascular skills."

To those who have seen him in action, Steve’s work happens in surprising fashion. "A lot of people who come through on tours think they're going to walk in to the glass shop and see a big tank full of molten glass and blow pipes and all of this other equipment you see at the Renaissance Festival, but that's not how it works," he says.

How it does work, Steve tells us, is through a detailed and meticulous process helped along by a wide variety of tools of the scientific glassblowing trade, including 4- to 5-foot lengths of tubing, a gas oxygen torch, a drill press, belt sander, and wet saw.

You can get a firsthand look at some of that equipment, along with some of Steve's own glassblowing creations, at a special exhibit celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mayo Clinic's glass shop in Rochester. The exhibit runs now through early May in the Plummer 12 Library Reference Room in Rochester.

"We have a lot of different apparatus in the exhibit that were made by Mayo's first glassblower, Harry Nunamaker, and some that Mayo's second glassblower Gordon Smith made and that I still currently make myself," Steve says. "There's an aortic model up there as well, and all kinds of information about the glass shop."

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